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Tuesday, Mar 28, 2023

Tough Tracking Federal Stimulus Money

The promise of transparency in the allocation of funds provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the Stimulus Package, has been derailed by a lack of detailed information being made available to the media and the public by officials in Washington, Sacramento, and City Hall. While there are plenty of websites and press releases touting the transparency of the stimulus allocation process now underway in the states, some promising a ?earch-by-zip-code?feature, no such database is currently available. In fact, a look into how much Stimulus money has come to the Valley for infrastructure or public works projects revealed that none of the so-called shovel-ready projects pitched to the White House by the mayor? office in March have begun construction using stimulus funds. After a much touted groundbreaking of an 18,000-job widening project for Interstate 405 in the Sepulveda Pass, which was billed as an ARRA project, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa? press office failed to return four phone messages left during a one-week period in regard to the status of that, and other stimulus projects in the Valley. ?o far, the only city programs that have actually gotten any money from the Recovery Act are the WIB (Workforce Investment Board) job-training programs, which do have locations in the Valley,?said Valley Economic Alliance President and CEO Bruce Ackerman. That? not to say some public-service projects and programs are ?onfirmed?to receive Recovery Act dollars ?many have. However exactly what confirmed means varies from person to person. Generally confirmed signifies that a proposed project meets the requirements of a federal grant under the ARRA legislation, according to an official at the Bureau of Public works who declined to have their name published because, they said, all Stimulus-related questions must be referred to the mayor? office. At issue is the apparent lack of information, or unwillingness to share information, about the exact progress of the funding mechanisms that will land stimulus dollars in Los Angeles. According to people such as Ackerman, the state? budget woes makes tracking the money more crucial now than it might be otherwise. Furthermore, President Barack Obama? assurances of a completely transparent ?not eventually transparent ?American Recovery and Reinvestment Act rollout has not yet materialized in Los Angeles. Nor has it happened at the state level, even with the former Los Angeles Controller Laura Chick having been appointed as the state Inspector General. Chick earned a sterling reputation in the city for uncovering millions of dollars in waste and fraud here. However, it remains to be seen if her famously dogged determination as an auditor and investigator will be enough to manage the often unwieldy bureaucracies of Sacramento. In fact, several calls to Chick? new office yielded a referral to the governor? Federal Economic Stimulus Task Force. No information was forthcoming from the task force at press time. Some private-sector companies have reportedly succeeded in securing federal stimulus dollars through the state legislature. But finding out the ?ho, when and how much?is an ad hoc process. Even the independent wiki-database, Stimuluswatch.org, which has received a great deal of media attention as a citizen-driven watchdog of ARRA spending, has no way to track the funding status by zip code, by project, or by city for the time being. However, proposed projects and peoples?opinions about their worthiness are readily available on the site. At the same time, the government? own recovery-information website asks citizens interested in taking the president up on his promise of transparency to be patient. The following is from the FAQ page of Recovery.gov: Q: I heard I’d be able to track recovery funds. Why can’t I do that? A: You aren’t able to track funds yet because we have not yet started receiving information from Federal agencies on how they are going to allocate the money. It takes a little bit of time for them to make sure your money is going to be spent wisely. Right now, the site features an overview of the law and an explanation of what it is intended to accomplish. You will have access to data as soon as we begin receiving it from agencies. Are those who expected to be able to ?ollow the money?throughout the entire allocation process just being impatient? For James Bjorseth, owner of Advanced Solar in Granada Hills, it does not matter. He stopped waiting for incentives from the State of California, through which the ARRA funds will pass before reaching ?nd users?when more than one promised program, which would have made easier for his firm to sell its solar-powered water heaters to consumers, failed to materialize. ??l tell you; I?e been waiting for the California programs for quite a while,?Bjorseth said. ?here? been a tax incentive program in limbo for two years ?part of the Million Roofs Solar Initiative. Basically they decided to study the situation for a year and a half, even though solar water systems have been proven to work for years, really thousands of years.? He has even less faith that small firms such as Advanced Solar will ever see a dime of stimulus money. ?here? not much in it for the little guy,?Bjorseth said. ?ost of the incentives are going to big companies, not the residential market.? But according to Ackerman not a single contractor ?large or small ?has begun work on a recovery project in the San Fernando Valley. ? don’t know of a single project in the Valley,?he said.

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